It started with a bit of cheeky humour from Sanjay Manjrekar. A day after Virat Kohli had said that those who haven’t played for the country have no right to comment on an international cricketer, Manjrekar started the panel discussion during the T20 World Cup launch event with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Introducing himself as “an expert who has not played any T20 game”, he sat down for a panel discussion which produced a few interesting snippets about the format.The occasion was the official unveiling of the T20 World Cup trophy and the release of the schedule of the matches, and much focus was on who would get the India-Pakistan match and what would happen to Chennai, from where not long ago N Srinivasan ran Indian cricket.
As it turned out, the Pakistan-India game went to Dharamshala, the association that Anurag Thakur, BCCI secretary and BJP MP, belongs to. And interestingly, Chennai got four women’s matches. Even as the eyebrows came down in the ball room at a suburban hotel, Manjrekar began the panel discussion with David Richardson, former South Africa player and currently, the ICC CEO, Thakur, and the three cricketers Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan.
There was the usual talk about how the format throws up exciting games that go down to the last ball, and how there is not much of an home advantage for India in this age of IPL but there were two nuggets in particular. The first one came from Kohli, an insight about Rahane’s batting, and the second was from Richardson on how many teams get the wicketkeeper’s slot wrong in a T20 team. It was about how Rahane manages to adapt to different formats almost effortlessly, especially for a batsman who is considered a purist’s delight and almost traditional in approach. It was then Kohli piped up with this insight – a lovely take on a batsman that perhaps only another well-accomplished batsman can provide.
“I have watched him closely for the last three years and one thing I have noticed is that the ball leaves his bat quicker than most people. That’s the trick he has. He has that timing and power, which most people don’t realise.” It’s a fascinating observation about special prowess of timing, a trait that has been made almost mysterious, and often difficult art to put down in words. Kohli has nailed it best — the ball leaving the bat quicker than most other batsman, with almost effortless ease.Kohli continued with his effusive praise for Rahane. “If you have seen in IPL , he is almost a different human being in T20s. He looks possessed! It’s good thing how he can adapt to different formats. All the credit to him and to the hard work, the hard yards he has put in.” That brought out a smile from Rahane.
A short while later, Richardson, a wicketkeeper for South Africa in the ’90s, fought for his tribe. He believes many T20 teams haven’t really thought about the role of wicketkeepers properly and have often used a batsman who can keep instead of specialist keepers. “It’s just 20 overs, how many batsmen do you need? Instead, if you can get a good keeper, he can make a huge difference. He can take those catches, stand up to the stumps for seamers to create pressure, and stop those leg-side deliveries from going for four byes.”
Kohli, who was all ears as Richardson spoke, shared his views. “It’s a very interesting analysis. But I can tell you how we in RCB (Royal Challengers Bangalore) went about it. We figured that about 20 deliveries go to the keeper and so we didn’t want to waste AB de Villiers who is such an exceptional fielder. So we chose to use him as a fielder, and had a batsman-keeper. It depends on teams and what players they have but I understand what (Richardson) is saying. A good keeper is very valuable, someone like Wriddhiman Saha who flies and catches everything.”
‘MSD set the bar’
There cannot be talk about T20 world cup without invoking India’s best limited-overs captain of all time MS Dhoni. Kohli talked about how “like the rest of the country” he was also hooked on to India’s progress in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, and how as a 19 year old he was inspired by how Dhoni led a team full of youngsters.
Asked what virtues he would like to adopt from Dhoni’s captaincy, Kohli said: “His composure. His ability to not panic in pressure situations is something that I would definitely like to learn and pick up from him.
“Definitely, he has set the bar as far as captaincy is concerned. He has won everything possible in the game. There is nothing that he has left to achieve for any other captain,” Kohli said with a big smile.
“I have been vice-captain for a while. I have been noticing what he does in certain situations and that definitely helps because he is one of the finest captains in the sport. (That 2007 tournament) was virtually the launch of Mahendra Singh Dhoni the captain. The way he expressed his tactics on the field, the way he led a very young team on the world stage.
Players like Rohit, Sreesanth, all these guys were new into the team and the way he led them on the World stage, making them believe that this can be done, was something that came through in that World Cup.
From thereon, he became this big figure in terms of captaincy in world cricket. His captaincy was praised all over and he became the figure of recognition for Indian cricket all over.”
The discussion ended with Manjrekar asking for predictions about possible winners. Richardson admitted a soft corner for South Africa but said anyone can win as this format can get so close.
Thakur wished for an exciting tournament with India lifting the trophy in the end. Rahane said “deep down I think India, we will definitely play well but as everyone said it will be a close tournament” while Dhawan believed the team which finds momentum at the right time will win. Kohli said it will be a close tournament and brought up South Africa’s success in the ODI series to make the point how IPL has made players around the world familiar with Indian conditions.”
There was one last activity left in the afternoon. After administrators posed with the two trophies – women and men’s — the three cricketers stood on the podium with the men’s World Cup trophy. Kohli in the middle, flanked by Rahane and Dhawan.
On photographers’ suggestion, Kohli gave the cup to Rahane and Dhawan, and put his hand around his team-mates. Time will tell if the three get to hold the trophy again on April 3rd or will the tournament continue with its trend of throwing up a new winner everytime.